To Succeed, Should You Specialize?

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In today’s market, does job specialization help or hinder one’s career? A new article published by John-Paul Ferguson and Sharique Hasan of Stanford University in Administrative Science Quarterly, “Specialization and Career Dynamics: Evidence from the Indian Administrative Service,” provides a unique perspective on this debate:

There are advantages to focusing on one thing. Whether it is because of skills that one learns on the job or because of the clearer signals of identity that one sends to potential employers, specializing can help an employee get ahead. Yet there are also advantages to broad experience. These might accrue from developing different skills or might be due to the ability to broker between different domains of expertise…

????????????????????????????In this paper, we use a rich set of longitudinal data about the background, work experiences, and career outcomes of officers in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) to parse the effect of specialization on career advancement. These data help us with both of these problems. First, the structure of the IAS minimizes variance in unobserved ability and rules out self-selection and survivor bias. This allows us to estimate more convincing, causal benefits of specialization on career advancement. Second, the IAS data include information about skills its officers acquire in each job, as well as the skill requirements of each job.

Click here to read the article in Administrative Science Quarterly, and visit the journal’s OnlineFirst section for more brand-new articles on organizational studies.

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